The title of French writer and filmmaker Éric Vuillard’s short book on the First Indochina War (1946-1954) exudes sarcasm. For Vuillard, there was nothing “honorable” about France’s efforts to hold on to its Indochinese empire by force. In this, he mirrors those on the American left who ridiculed the Nixon-Kissinger formula of “peace with honor” in the Second Indochina War. Vuillard reduces the complex historical and geopolitical aspects of the French war to a single anti-capitalist narrative—the war was all about money and greed.

Contemporary China is a socio-political assessment of China since 1949, at the advent of the People’s Republic of China. The author, Gilles Guiheux, is a historian and sociologist at Université Paris Cité. Those familiar with 20th- and 21st-century Chinese history will find little new or surprising in Guiheux’s account, though unlike some other works on the Communist period he emphasizes continuity as well as change. The Communist regime, he writes, had a “multiplicity of inheritances”, and its “programme of action” since 1949 has much in common with other early 20th-century reform movements and even the interwar Republican period, though it also borrowed from Stalin’s Soviet Union. China’s societal evolution during the Communist period, he suggests, was not unique but instead like other countries in Asia and elsewhere experienced “industrialization, urbanization, bureaucratization and globalization”.

Korea was a unified, homogeneous country from the seventh century CE until 1945 when in the wake of the Second World War it was partitioned by the United States and the Soviet Union and formally became two separate states in 1948. Since that time, writes James Madison University history professor Michael J Seth, Korea has been a nation divided into vastly different social systems and “perpetually at war” with itself. Seth’s new book Korea at War attempts to describe and explain this geopolitical transformation.  

We are often told that the trend toward globalization is unstoppable, but then some event occurs—whether it is the war in Ukraine or Brexit—that reminds us of the power of nationalism; the emotional attachment that citizens have to their land and people. That power, that emotional attachment, jumps off every page of The War Diary of Asha-san, written by a young Indian nationalist in the midst of the Second World War. 

China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) did not just appear out of nowhere with China’s rise to military superpower status in the 21st century, though there has been very little written in English about its origins. Until now: Toshi Yoshihara, a former professor at the Naval War College and currently a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, traces the PLAN’s beginnings to the Chinese Civil War and the early years of Mao Zedong’s rule in his new book Mao’s Army Goes to Sea.

Steve Kemper’s Our Man in Tokyo is the second book in three years to deliver fulsome praise on the untiring yet unsuccessful effort by Joseph Grew, the US Ambassador to Japan in the 1930s and early 1940s, to avoid a war between the US and Japan. Like Lew Paper’s 2019 In the Cauldron, Kemper’s book depicts Grew as an unheralded diplomatist trying to avoid armageddon, while portraying policymakers in Tokyo and Washington as stubbornly blundering into war. 

On 2 September 1945, on the US battleship Missouri, US General Douglas MacArthur concluded the formal surrender ceremony of the Pacific War by stating: “Let us pray that peace be now restored to the world, and that God will preserve it always.” When the guns of the Second World War fell silent in Asia, peace did not return to the peoples of East and Southeast Asia. Instead, as Ronald Spector details in his meticulous and informative military history of the postwar Far East, the region “erupted” as a result of decolonization, civil wars, and the broader Cold War. The region became a vast “bloodlands” in which nearly four million combatants and probably close to 20 million civilians died.